Stand Up For Your Right To Kill Checks

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Followed a link I saw in my Twitter feed yesterday to a site called Stand Up For Your Right To Write Checks. According to the site, it’s a “consumer advocacy campaign designed to help you defend your right to pay your way.” The site’s About page says:

“According to a recent Ipsos survey of consumers across the country, three-quarters of Americans believe they should have the freedom to pay at stores or restaurants with whatever method of payment they prefer. And for millions of consumers, that preferred method is the reliable standby, the check.

Yet, it seems, retailers are hanging “no checks” signs on their windows and at their checkouts. This reliance on only cash and credit forms of payment severely limits consumer-spending power and creates problems for those who wish to carry checks.”

There’s a link to Facebook, which as best as I can tell simply redirects you back to the http://righttowritechecks.com URL. There’s a YouTube page for the campaign with a single 47-second video, and a Twitter handle, MrChecksAppeal, whose bio states:

“Duncan Steele is a man’s man, and a ladies man. He is fiscally responsible, and filled with checks appeal. Yes, he knows what it takes.”

(I couldn’t find any Duncan Steele on LinkedIn that fit the bill here, although — ironically, as you’ll see — there was a Duncan Steele who is the Coordinator, Ethics & Diversity Services at Fraser Health Authority in Canada).

There’s a page with “checks gear”, namely t-shirts with pro-check slogans, but the links to CafePress.com are all broken.

And then on the For Retailers page, you get a glimpse of who’s really behind this. The page tells about a Check-In and Win Sweepstakes where  retailers (and their customers) can win something for participating. I’m willing to bet that legally the site had to specify who sponsored the sweepstakes, because that was the only mention of Deluxe Corporation (a manufacturer of checks) on the entire site.

On the Consumer Tools page, there is a list of people who have signed the petition to “stand up for their right to write checks.” I’ve determined, by the way, that at least 8 of the first ten names listed are all associated with a single Minnesota-based PR firm (Deluxe is based in MN, btw), and found a few other names that match up to Deluxe employees.

Bottom line: This is anything BUT a “consumer advocacy” campaign. It’s a marketing campaign on the part of a perfectly respectable and reputable firm. But the lack of transparency here is particularly offensive.

Furthermore, let’s get something else straight: Writing checks is not a “right” that consumers have. It’s a convenience that banks provide. And, if we’re going to argue about “rights” — I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this — don’t retailers and merchants have the “right” to accept the forms of payment that are most convenient and profitable to them? It should be their decision to refuse forms of payments that their customers do or don’t want to use.

From the bank perspective, however, the time has come to kill checks.

Will people (or, as described above, companies masquerading as “consumer advocates”) complain? Absolutely. But there’s precedent here.

Thirtyish years ago, gas stations told customers they had to get out of their cars and pump their own gas. People whined, moaned, and complained. But did it. And got over it. And found that — except for when it’s really cold or raining — it’s actually a faster and better experience.

Same thing with checks. People will complain about the death of checks. But the infrastructure in place to process checks is a drag on bank profitability. And even though overall check volume is declining, the reality is that banks can’t dismantle this infrastructure. In other words, the fixed cost is high, and the variable cost is low. The only answer is to kill checks.

If the current volume of checks were to move to debit cards, banks would recoup some of the lost interchange revenue they’re facing. And if they can do that, and create synergies for marketing with retailers/merchants (i.e., what BillShrink or Cardlytics do), then further benefits can be passed on to consumers. And the last time I checked, by the way, consumers have never received rewards for writing checks.

Last point: I’m betting that somebody is going to cite SUFYRTWC as a great case study of a multi-channel campaign, because it utilizes a web site, contest, Facebook, Twitter, and videos. But if the campaign doesn’t reverse the trend away from check writing, then don’t buy into this line of reasoning.

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